The Process Of Making Sugar

The process of making sugar contains a lot of steps. Learn about how sugar is made.

Sugarcane is a perennial herb belonging to the grass family. Native to tropical and subtropical regions of the world, this tropical grass is 10-24-feet tall. bears long, pointed leaves, and has several stalks. The segmented stalks have a bud at each joint and as the plant matures, small flowers appear.

PLANTING

Sugarcane cuttings are planted in fields by workers or mechanical planters. In order for the cane to grow, the seeds must be planted in well-drained soil. Typical cane soil is made of a mixture of silt, sand, clay particles and organic matter. Canes are spaced at least 4-feet apart and lined in rows and covered with soil. Fertilizers are applied from the time of planting up until the beginning of the ripening period. Cane fields are also routinely weeded to provide for optimum growth of the cane. Depending on the region where the crop is planted, cane seasons last from 8-22 months. In the United States, sugarcane is grown in Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana and Texas.

COLLECTING THE HARVEST

Mature canes are gathered by a combination of manual and mechanical methods. Canes are cut at ground level, its leaves are removed and the top is trimmed off by cutting off the last mature joint. Cane is then placed into large piles and picked up, tied, and transported to a sugar factory.



CLEANSING AND GRINDING

Stalks are thoroughly washed and cut when reaching the sugar mill. After the cleaning process, a machine led by a series of rotating knives, shreds the cane into pieces. This is known as "grinding." During grinding, hot water is sprayed on to the sugarcane to dissolve any remaining hard sugar. The smaller pieces of cane are then spread out on a conveyer belt.

JUICING

The shredded pieces of sugarcane travel on the conveyer belt through a series of heavy-duty rollers, which extract juice from the pulp. The pulp that remains or "bagasse" is dried and used as fuel. The raw juice moves on through the mill to be clarified.

CLARIFYING

Carbon dioxide and the milk of a lime are added to the liquid sugar mixture and it is heated to the boiling point, as the process of clarifying begins. As the carbon dioxide travels through the liquid it forms calcium carbonate, which attracts non-sugar debris (fats, gums, and wax) from the juice, and pulls them away from the sugar juice. The juice is then pushed through a series of filters to remove any remaining impurities.

EVAPORATION

The clear juice which results from the clarifying process is put under a vacuum, where the juice boils at a low temperature and begins to evaporate. It is heated until it forms into a thick, brown syrup.

CRYSTALLIZATION

By evaporating what little water is left in the sugar syrup, crystallization takes place. Inside a sterilized vacuum pan, pulverized sugar is fed into the pan as the liquid evaporates, causing the formation of crystals. The remaining mixture is a thick mass of large crystals, which is sent to a centrifuge to spin and dry the crystals. The dried product is raw sugar, still inedible.

REFINERY

Raw sugar is transported to a Cane Sugar Refinery for the removal molasses, minerals and other non-sugars, which still contaminate the sugar. This is known as the purification process. Raw sugar is mixed with a solution of sugar and water to loosen the molasses from the outside of the raw sugar crystals, producing a thick matter known as "magma." Large machines then spin the magma, which separate the molasses from the crystals. Crystals are promptly washed, dissolved and filtered to remove impurities. The golden syrup which is produced is then sent through filters to remove the color and water. What's left is a concentrated, clear syrup, which is again fed into a vacuum pan.

SEPARATION AND PACKAGING

Once the final evaporation and drying process is done, screens separate the different sized sugar crystals. Large and small crystals are packaged and shipped, labeled as white, refined, sugar.

SUGAR FACTS

REFINED white sugar is 99.9-percent sucrose.

WHITE sugar is pure sucrose, containing no preservatives or additives.

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